On the eve of his likely ascendancy to Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner offered a surprisingly frank admission of past failure by his own party, and said the GOP will control federal spending better than they did before.
He also said that while President Obama did inherit some problems that were not of his own making, he has made the problems facing the country worse instead of better.
“Americans are demanding a new way forward in Washington – an approach that neither party has tried,” Boehner said Saturday in the weekly Republican address.
Boehner, of Ohio, went into some detail to describe the different direction he would take the House in if Republicans are swept to power in Tuesday’s midterm elections, though he avoided the most controversial issues, such as Obama’s health care bill, or entitlement spending, which remains the elephant in the room facing both parties.
He focused on promises he has already made this fall, that House Republicans would move immediately to reduce federal spending to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels,” and that they would set “strict budget caps” in place to limit future spending.
In essence, such measures would return federal spending to 2008 levels, though Boehner did not mention that in the “Pledge to America” released in September by House Republicans, the document promises “common-sense exceptions” to the spending freeze “for seniors, veterans, and our troops.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who has been the most willing in his party to offer specific but politically unpalatable solutions to the country’s fiscal situation, said in September that Boehner’s ideas are “critical first steps.”
Ryan said the steps would “restrain the explosive growth of government and would provide much needed certainty for job creators to restart the engine of growth and prosperity.”
Nonetheless, the just specific enough policy promises, combined with a humble mea culpa on behalf of his party, made for a savvy political statement and closing argument as the election heads into its last three days.
“It’s a break from the direction in which President Obama has taken our country,” Boehner said. “And frankly, it’s also a break from the direction in which Republicans were headed when Americans last entrusted us with the reins of government.”
“The American people are in charge, and they deserve nothing less,” Boehner said, in a clear nod to the power and intensity of the Tea Party movement. “We’ve tried it President Obama’s way. We’ve tried it Washington’s way. It hasn’t worked. It’s time to put the people back in charge.
In his own weekly address, Obama all but acknowledged that his party will lose control of the House on Tuesday, but adopted the tone of a professor welcoming a recalcitrant group of students into his classroom for a lecture.
He instructed the ascendant GOP on how they should conduct themselves if and when they gain a House majority.
“I believe it’s the fundamental responsibility of all who hold elective office to seek out common ground,” Obama said. “It may not always be easy to find agreement; at times we’ll have legitimate philosophical differences. And it may not always be the best politics. But it is the right thing to do for our country.”
It was an attempt to return to the tone of his 2008 campaign. But that rhetoric is now colored by the way in which Obama has approached much of his policy-making during his first two years in office.
Obama said he was “troubled” by comments this past week by Boehner and by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
“The Republican leader of the House actually said that ‘this is not the time for compromise.’ And the Republican leader of the Senate said his main goal after this election is simply to win the next one,” Obama said.
The president said he chalked the “heated rhetoric” up to election season, but said that after Tuesday’s election results are in, “we need to put this kind of partisanship aside – win, lose, or draw.”
But McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said that “the American people are clamoring for a focus on jobs and righting our economy.”
“Instead, for two years the president and the majority in Congress have veered off to the far left and pursued their own liberal wish-list agenda,” Stewart said.